Despite some rather cooler, wetter conditions in the second week of August, the hot weather has continued largely unabated since my last blog post and the meadows here at Clandon Wood are now ready for harvest. As the wild flowers have all but gone to seed and the fruits are ripening in the hedges, so too the birds, butterflies and many other animals are completing their breeding cycles and beginning their preparations for autumn and winter.
The Swifts have largely all flown south now and the hedgerows at Clandon Wood are busy with Whitethroats and Blackcaps fattening themselves up on elderberries and blackberries ahead of their own long journeys. Juvenile birds abound with young Goldfinches and Pheasants in the meadows, rather unsteady Buzzards whining overhead and the usual Little Grebe, Coot and Moorhen families on the ponds. Some of our resident Kestrel family are still around, often seen perched in the young trees or flying low over the meadows, not to be confused with the black and white scythe-winged, short-tailed Hobby which we’ve seen quite a bit of recently. One of my favourite birds, these dashing migratory falcons feed on dragonflies and birds such as Swallows and Swifts which they are agile enough to catch and sometimes eat in the air. A late breeder, they will now be feeding themselves and their young up ahead of their return to Africa in the coming weeks.
Kestrel, sporting its shiny new leg ring
Hobby hawking over the meadows
As I mentioned, dragonflies are a staple of the Hobby’s diet and at this time of year there are lots around, particularly near the ponds here at Clandon Wood. One of the most numerous species around now is the Common Darter; look out for the red-bodied males and golden females hawking around low over the meadows.
Common Darter female
Butterfly numbers are starting to tail off a little, with the high summer species such as Meadow Brown and Gatekeeper coming to the end of their flight seasons now. The second generation of Common Blue – one of our most numerous butterflies here – seems particularly good this year with just under two hundred logged in a single transect walk on 7th August. In good years species such as Dingy Skipper will have a second brood which has indeed happened here this year – this is great news as we only recorded the species for the first time here in the spring. Other species we’ve been seeing more of than usual lately include Brown Argus and Small Heath. One of the last butterfly species to emerge in the year and as such one of the true heralds of autumn approaching, we have seen a few Brown Hairstreaks at Clandon Wood recently. As regular readers of this blog will know we have a fairly good population of this species here although the adult butterflies are considerably harder to find than their eggs which we look for in our Blackthorn hedges in the winter months.
I’ve been running my moth trap fairly regularly through the summer months with some good results, including many new species we’ve not recorded here before. One of the most colourful was the Rosy-striped Knothorn (Oncocera semirubella), a tiny micro moth – just an inch long and coloured like a rhubarb and custard sweet. This species lives on Bird’s-foot Trefoil in chalk grassland and is confined to southern counties in the UK.
The micro moths are a fascinating and often overlooked group. They make up the lion’s share of moths in Britain with over 1,600 species compared to only around 800 of the larger or ‘macro moth’ species. Due to their often tiny size many micros have adapted to fill some very inconspicuous niches. It’s tempting to think that, as the flowers and grasses in meadows such as here at Clandon Wood fade in late summer, so the wildlife value of the habitat diminishes but in fact it is then that many species such as Little Conch, Cocksfoot Moth and Teasel Marble begin the next stage of their life cycles as their larvae feed inside the seed heads of plants such as Ragwort, Sow-thistle, Cocksfoot and Teasel – not to mention the hosts of butterfly larvae which will be emerging in the coming weeks to feed on herbaceous growth of many plants and grasses. So, while it’s tempting to see the transition from summer to autumn as an ending, in many ways it is just a new beginning. There’s a palpable feeling of change in the natural world at this time of year and I for one absolutely love it.